Coin-collecting is one of the world’s oldest hobbies, but you need to do your research carefully. We round up the most valuable coins that could show up in your wallet.
Cash is still the most common form of payment, used for 15.4 billion transactions in 2016, according to Payments UK. But while you may be used to simply spending your money, there is a chance you could also make a mint from your spare change too.
Christopher Martin, chairman of the British Numismatic Trade Association (BNTA), the trade body for firms that buy and sell coins, medals and banknotes, says: “Collecting coins and banknotes can be a great hobby as you get to have ‘history in your hands’. But there is an additional advantage of carefully buying good value items in order to achieve an investment return. Coins and banknotes have proved a good investment.”
But don’t just raid your attic for old coins passed down from family members or pick up a metal detector in the hope of stumbling upon a Roman treasure trove. You should also check your pockets, wallets, and down the back of your sofa for new coins.
That’s because the issuing of commemorative coins in recent years – such as the 2012 London Olympics 50p coins released into circulation in 2011 and the 50p Beatrix Potter collection launched in 2016 – has spawned a flurry of interest in collecting and selling modern coins.
Lizzie Beckford, a numismatist at coin, bullion, and jewellery dealer Chard, says: “Over the past fi ve years, we’ve had a ten-fold increase in enquiries about modern coins – people are actually starting to look at their change.” With the new range of 50p Beatrix Potter coins in circulation this year featuring the familiar faces of characters Benjamin Bunny, Mr Jeremy Fisher, Peter Rabbit and Tom Kitten, Moneywise takes a look at whether you can make a pretty penny from your pennies.
What makes a coin valuable?
When collectors are looking to buy coins, there are several factors they’ll take into consideration when determining how much – if anything – a coin is worth.
Firstly, there’s the coin’s mintage – the number of coins that were produced. Mrs Beckford says: “Low mintage is important – the lower the mintage, the more collectible a coin is. Take the commemorative Kew Gardens 50p, which launched in 2009, for example. In 2017, we had it valued at around £3 for a circulation coin and £7 for an uncirculated coin still in its presentation pack. But when people realised the low mintage of it and the coin started to appear in the media, people paid a lot more. I’ve actually seen one sold for £299 on online auction site eBay.”
Condition is also important, as Mrs Beckford explains:
“If a coin has been worn and handled, that can affect the price. Serious collectors want coins that have had as little wear as possible.”
Richard Beale, who has worked as a valuer at Warwick & Warwick, an auctioneer of collectables for the past 30 years, adds: “If a coin looks nice, people will pay more for it. A large silver coin called a crown from the reign of George III, for example, can be bought for £15 to £20 in circulated condition, but in a nice condition it’s worth £280.”
Coins are graded in six categories, according to the BNTA. These are mint condition (FDC, fleur de coin), extremely fine (EF), very fine (VF), fine (F), fair, and poor.
The age of the coin will also have an impact. Mrs Beckford says: “Rarer coins are the older coins no longer in circulation.”
Mr Martin adds: “Modern coins retrieved from general circulation are only in very exceptional circumstances worth more than their face value.” Coins with anomalies can also grab the attention of collectors. A spokesperson for The Royal Mint, the UK’s coin supplier, says: “All UK coins are struck within very small tolerances and under rigorous quality control systems, and samples of everything we produce are independently checked and verified at the annual Trial of the Pyx (see the image below).
“However, based on the sheer volumes we produce, it is impossible to check every coin. As such, the occasional one may display an anomaly.” Luke Hearn, marketing manager at modern coin collecting platform Change Checker, cites the following examples: “Very occasionally, there may be a minting error which leads to incredibly rare coins. Two of the most famous modern examples are a ‘silver 2p’ dated from 2015, which was found by charity collectors, and the ‘undated 20p’ from 2008 of which up to 250,000 were issued, which were both verified by the Royal Mint as genuine errors. These can command a lot of money when sold.”
Mrs Beckford also gives the examples of a misaligned £2 Britannia coin from 2015, which she estimates would be worth about £150 to a collector, and a 2007 £2 silver proof commemorative abolition of the slave trade coin with an incorrect ‘Act of Union’ inscription on it – making it worth about £1,000.
But while Mr Beale says these anomalies are interesting, you’re unlikely to have one in your wallet. “In our last auction, we had an undated penny from the 1954-1967 period with two heads on it, which we had at an expected price of £40 and actually got £140. People are really interested in these things. But millions upon millions of coins are struck, and errors aren’t as common as you might think.”
However, regardless of a coin’s mintage, age or condition, what you can get for a coin entirely depends on how much a collector is willing to pay. Mrs Beckford says: “Some people using online auction websites are charging a fortune for what they consider to be a rare £2 coin. Technically it is worth £2, but a collector will pay as much as they feel it’s worth.”
How to buy and sell coins
While you can buy coins directly from the Royal Mint, you can’t sell coins back to it. It recommends people looking to sell coins contact a BNTA-registered coin dealer – you can find a list of members on its website and you can also buy coins from its members.
The BNTA says all its members must go through a “stringent process” to join and companies wanting to become members can only apply if they’ve received a recommendation from a peer who is already a member. Once a member, firms must also meet a code of ethics. Warwick & Warwick, which we spoke to for this feature, is a member but Chard is not – although it says it has more than 50 years’ experience in this industry.
Before buying or selling coins, it’s vital to do your research. Mr Martin explains: “Research is the best form of verification – due diligence and research on the market and what is being sold.”
You can get a feel for prices by checking coin stockists, auctioneers, online auction websites, and by going along to coin fares, antique shops, and auctions. BNTA members will also often publish their own list of coins, so you can get an idea of what they’re worth.
Dealers may offer free valuations too – Warwick & Warwick, for example, can tell using a photograph if your coin is worth anything – if it believes it is, it will ask you to come to its office for a full valuation when it will either suggest a price for a private sale or it can sell items worth at least £100 at auction for you – in this scenario it takes a 15% commission plus VAT.
Mrs Beckford also recommends buying or borrowing a copy from your local library of what she dubs the “coin dealer’s bible”; Coins of England and the United Kingdom 52nd edition, issued in 2017 by collectables dealer, Spink. According to Spink, this is “the only reference work to feature every major British coin type from Celtic to the present day”.
For those looking to find modern coins currently in circulation, Change Checker has a free platform where collectors can swap coins.
You can also talk to fellow collectors on Twitter using the hashtag #CoinHunt.
The Moneywise verdict
Coin collecting is fascinating, but it should be viewed as a hobby that you could – but by no means certainly – make a little extra pocket money from. Coins are only valuable if you find the right coin and the right collector and, when it comes to modern coins and commemorative coins, The Royal Mint issues so many that the vast majority won’t be worth more than their face value. You’d be better off putting your money into the stock market for five years or more if you want to boost your income.
How to avoid fake coins
Lizzie Beckford gives her top tips for how to tell if a coin is the real deal:
• Listen to the sound of a coin falling on to a soft surface (don’t damage the coin by dropping it on to something hard!) – it sings to you by making a ringing noise.
• Check the alignment of the image and text – if it’s off, it’s probably a fake.
• Read the writing – sometimes the lettering isn’t quite right as scammers don’t have the dyes and expertise the Royal Mint has.
• Look at the coin’s surface with a magnifying glass – if you see tiny bubbles on it, like cellulite, it’s probably a fake as you won’t see this on struck coins.
The rarest coins currently in circulation
According to The Royal Mint, circulating coins are usually issued in the millions, but the rarest 50p, £1 and £2 coins in terms of low mintage figures currently in circulation are as follows:
50p: The 2009 Kew Gardens coin commemorating its 250th anniversary. Only 210,000 coins were issued, making this coin the rarest in circulation. The highest sold price Moneywise saw on eBay for this coin was £510.
£1: The 2011 Edinburgh city coin. It has a mintage of 935,000. The highest sold price Moneywise saw on eBay for this coin was £98 within a presentation pack.
£2: The 2002 Commonwealth Games commemorative coins featuring designs for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – with the Northern Irish design being the rarest. Only English designs, 588,500 Welsh designs and 485,000 Irish designs. Moneywise saw the Northern Irish version sold on eBay for £59.
Others: The Royal Mint also highlights the Aquatics 50p designed as part of 29 sporting 50ps for the London 2012 Olympics. The original coin that went into circulation in 2011 featured water ripples going over the swimmer’s face. But shortly after production commenced, the design was changed as it was decided the swimmer’s face would look better without these ripples. The Royal Mint says only a “limited number” of the original design were circulated although it doesn’t know exactly how many. Moneywise saw one of these coins sold on eBay for £1,380.
Jon Bannister (pictured above), a company director from Chelmsford in Essex, was challenged by a couple of his friends who’ve been coin collecting for years to collect a set of the UK’s “rarest” 54 50p coins (as defined by Change Checker’s Scarcity Index, which combines mintage with collecting and swapping data – for more details visit Changechecker.org).
The 42-year-old set about his quest by withdrawing thousands of pounds from his current account in 50p pieces. He meticulously trawled through these for the rare coins, recorded them on his spreadsheet, and returned the rest to the bank.
In total, he’s withdrawn £6,250 worth of 50ps – that’s 12,500 coins. He’s found 1,060 coins thought to be of value – £530 worth – and is in the process of depositing the remaining £5,720 back into his account. His bank asks him to deposit these in bags of 20 coins so he says it can be a time-consuming process.
Jon also uses Change Checker to swap coins with fellow collectors, although he warns that you need to trust who you’re swapping with and make sure coins are posted safely.
But it has taken him just under a month to complete the set (pictured left) using this method and he’s now got the bug – planning to create more 50p sets with the coins he’s got left over and to start using the same method to collect £1 and £2 coins too.
“I’ve got friends who’ve been looking for years and who still don’t have the Kew Gardens or the Olympic football coins,” he says. Jon has one Kew Gardens coin and five off-side rule football coins – considered the two rarest 50ps using Change Checker’s Scarcity Index.
Jon has even got his nine-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter involved, citing it as being a “good way to get the kids off the computer or TV” – as well as being nice for them to have a collection to keep.
His plan is to eventually sell the coins on eBay. He’s looked at the sales prices for three coin retailers on the online auction website and estimated he could make around £300 per completed 50p set. He also has the Olympic sets and Beatrix Potter sets, which he says he has seen being sold on eBay for about £80 to £100 and £25 to £30, respectively.
Is he worried that after a while the craze for coins will die out? “No, looking back at the history of these coins, I believe their value is only increasing each year. So, I may even sit on the coins for a few years in the hope their value rises,” he says.
Of course, if you’re collecting coins, ensure you keep them in a safe place – such as in a safe – and check that they’ll be covered by your home insurance.